Alexander Freed’s stellar book draws the reader in, makes them become invested in the characters and curious to see where the writing takes them…
Alexander Freed, take a bow. In fact, take as many as you want. Star Wars fans around the globe, on your feet. Give the man the standing ovation he deserves.
You see, Alexander Freed gets it. He really does. He knows what goes into writing an outstanding novel and knows exactly what should go into a Star Wars book. Take Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company. It was an offshoot of the themes and gameplay taken from the video game. It could have been just another pointless, cash-grabbing tie-in. What was delivered was an outstanding war novel set in the Star Wars universe. Added alongside the novel of Rogue One Freed was commissioned to write and you have two of the best Star Wars novels ever written. And now the author has created and delivered a fantastic, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable book in Alphabet Squadron.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron | by Alexander Freed
Set after the events of Return Of The Jedi, Freed has hit an extremely strong home run with this novel. New characters are introduced, old favourites appear or are mentioned and Star Wars history is referenced to the reader’s delight. I hesitate to use the word, masterpiece, as if I did that, Freed would go out and write an even better book and change the game again.
What you must understand going into the book is its part one of a three-part story. Even in his acknowledgements at the end of the book, Freed himself quotes ‘One down, two to go. This doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the book, in fact, it enhances it. I can’t wait to read the next part of this trilogy for I’m hooked now and really want to see where this leads to. What makes the book stand out is the way the reader is made to see the same battles from both sides. The novel is set after the destruction of the second Death Star and the Rebel’s ‘Assassination’ of Emperor Palpatine. As you can tell, the viewing of said events is viewed differently by either side. The Rebel’s believe they’ve saved the galaxy from tyranny and persecution from the Empire. The Imperials, by contrast, view The Emperor’s death as nothing short of cold-blooded murder. Both sides have to pick up the pieces after the Galactic Civil War and both sides are on unsure footing. The Rebellion has now been renamed ‘The New Republic’ and are battling die-hard pockets of Imperials, still convinced that they can win a war they’ve already lost and are holding out against the victorious Rebels.
What’s left of the former Empire is making small hit and run attacks, designed to gain whatever resources they can get. But amongst all the uncertainty, the Emperor’s Messenger appears and commands the remaining Imperial Forces to commence ‘Operation Cinder’, an attack on various worlds to destroy ALL life and resources, to make the planets unusable to the Republic. Chief among this destruction is the feared 204th Squadron, the Empire’s most lethal TIE fighter squad, named Shadow Wing. Their pilots are tasked with escorting the bombers on their attack runs and also to attack and destroy any Republic craft they come across, whether it be a small fighter of a large Frigate.
The story begins with the questioning of former TIE pilot and member of the 204th squadron, Yrica Quell. Quell is an Imperial defector, one of many that have decided to abandon the defeated Empire and join the Republic instead. She tells a version of her story to a reprogrammed Imperial torture droid but she is lying. And the droid knows it. She’s holding back a lot of the details of her former life. Now under the command of Aden Caern, she is being held at a camp for former Imperials that they have decided to name ‘Traitor’s Remorse’. Caern has plans for her which entail recruiting her to a select group tasked with tracking down and destroying Shadow Wing using the information they can discover and by any means necessary.
Joining her on her mission are a former Imperial officer, Nath Tensent, the last remaining pilots from two republic squadrons, Riot Squadron and Hound squadron, both squadrons defeated and destroyed by Shadow Wing in the aftermath of the Imperial defeat, Wyl Lark and Chass Na Chadic and the strange, non-committal, non-speaking Kairos, who hides her face behind a visor. These ragtag bunch of misfits, completely distrusting of each other and at least one with their own secret agenda, must come together and become ‘Alphabet Squadron’. Originally starting under the command of Caern and after a few failures, the squad comes under the control of General Hera Syndulla. After tossing them a few bones of missions to see how they perform, Hera decides to start pushing the squadron into more dangerous missions. All the while, Shadow Wing is attacking republic ships and is becoming more of a threat.
I can’t go into any more details than this as it would spoil and give away the remainder of the book. It plays out to perfection though. The new characters, although I can’t honestly say I love them at this point, are fleshed out enough to keep the reader’s interest in them and their fates. The book is the opening salvo on a new trilogy and one that I can see getting even better as time progresses. The book draws the reader in, makes them become invested in the characters and curious to see where the writing takes them. And its plot runs exactly like a Star Wars novel should. It takes great skill juggling multiple story threads and not leaving them wide open or as a background sideline and Freed manages it with ease. Of course, some things are left open, some personal conflicts remain unresolved and there is at least one twist at the end but all in all, the book never fails to hold the attention or become stale and that what makes it so rewarding.
Of all of the new characters, its the lead character, Yrica Quell that impressed me the most. All the newly introduced characters have a good part to play and remain vital to the continuing story but Quell intrigued me the most. It’s her backstory, her decision making while a member of Shadow Wing and her subsequent defection to the Republic that comes in for the most scrutiny and even though some revelations during the book go some way to explaining her character and her traits, I feel like there’s more to come, that there’s still something in her past that will rear its head and return to haunt her and her new comrades. And it won’t be good, no matter how anyone wants to dress it up.
The returning Hera Syndulla makes for a fantastic addition to the story. It is great to read more about her activities after ‘Rebels‘ and, again, I feel there is a lot more to come from her down the line. I cannot see her standing around, making plans and not being involved in the space battles for much longer. She’s not that sort of character. And maybe we will find out more about what happened after the events of the T.V show when it ended. The small hints and nods to her past throughout her time in the novel will bring a smile to the face of the readers in the know. Mentions of her bravery during the battle of Scarif adorn the pages. And the events of ‘Rogue One‘ are vital to the storyline of the book, as one of the new characters is concerned at least. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars novel without a mention of Darth Vader, even though here it’s just a one-line sentence uttered by one character. It does tie the whole narrative together.
Alexander Freed, as I’ve stated before, knows everything about what he writes, from the backstory up to the biggest of details that will be vital for the book to either soar or fall. Here, yet again, he pulls out a triumph that leaves most of the other authors lying in his wake. Freed, James Khan, Jason Fry, Deliah S Dawson, Claudia Gray, Timothy Zahn, Pablo Hidalgo and James Luceno are the authors that define Star Wars book royalty, leaving all others floundering in the dirt, vying for a place at a table they can never sit at. Each has their own strengths they bring to the table, each has a distinctive writing style and each never fails to hit the heights when they write about our beloved characters.
In this novel, Alexander Freed has introduced us to a new group to cheer for, new villains to despise and new mysteries and intrigue for us to consume and enjoy. In that respect, the book is an all-time classic, one to read time and again and to treasure. And one that earns its place amongst the best of the Star Wars novels published. And I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed is published by Penguin Random House Books and is available to buy now.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!